According to Yoga Australia, yoga is an approach to life that values appropriate effort, based on balance and harmony, within each person and with each other.
It said the practice cultivates the union of the breath, mind and body, leading to greater integration of being, internal peacefulness, and clarity of the mind.
A typical yoga class is made up of a series of asanas, or poses, designed to develop strength and flexibility, while soothing your nerves and calming your mind.
The focus is on the breath.
An important aspect of yoga is that it is not an exercise where you push yourself beyond your limits.
An asana should never cause pain.
If it hurts, ease back on the stretch or don’t do it at all.
However, yoga can also be deceiving: you may think you are doing a gentle work out but you might feel the effects for a few days afterwards.
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Yoga Australia said that in recent years there has been a growing number of well-designed studies into the health benefits of yoga.
These show that the practice of yoga is safe, useful and cost-effective for a wide range of conditions and life-stages.
Yoga can benefit the:
Cardiovascular system (heart and arteries) – asanas are isometric, which means they rely on holding muscle tension for a short period of time. This improves cardiovascular fitness and circulation. Studies show that regular yoga practice may help normalise blood pressure.
Digestive system – improved blood circulation and the massaging effect of surrounding muscles speed up a sluggish digestion.
Musculoskeletal – joints are moved through their full range of motion, which encourages mobility and eases pressure. The gentle stretching releases muscle and joint tension, and stiffness, and also increases flexibility. Maintaining many of the asanas encourages strength and endurance. Weight-bearing asanas may help prevent osteoporosis, and may also help people already diagnosed with osteoporosis (if practised with care under the supervision of a qualified yoga teacher). Long-term benefits include reduced back pain and improved posture.
Nervous system – improved blood circulation, easing muscle tension and the act of focusing the mind on the breath all combine to soothe the nervous system. Long-term benefits include reduced stress, anxiety and fatigue, better concentration and energy levels, and increased feelings of calm and wellbeing. Before going to a yoga class, check with a doctor or physiotherapist first to find out if there are any movements to avoid.
Find a teacher who understands individual needs, especially if you have replacement joints or injuries.
To find an appropriately-qualified yoga teacher near you go to www.yogaaustralia.org.au